Retired Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert of the U.S. Army spoke at an American Legion Post 24 fundraiser Saturday night about the changing face of U.S. special operations forces.
A former special forces commander, Lambert was born in McPherson and graduated from Inman High School. He began his career as an enlisted man.
He coauthored the successful counter insurgency plan that was implemented in El Salvador. He was the operations officer of the task force that wrote the Panama invasion plan. He planned and conducted numerous raids for NATO and executed several non-combatant evacuations in Africa.
He was in command of the U.S. Army Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets, on 9/11 and subsequently provided the forces for the core invasion of Afghanistan.
History of special operations
Lambert began his lecture by outlining the history of special operations forces. The Green Berets find their roots in the Office of Strategic Services, which was created during World War II. The primary mission of the OSS was unconventional warfare, working with partisans and guerrillas behind enemy lines.
OSS soldiers were trained to operate in Europe and Asia, collecting intelligence and aiding resistance groups. Army OSS were the first frog men, using the first SCUBA gear in their operations.
Eventually, the OSS was disbanded by President Truman, ultimately splitting into two organizations: the CIA and US Army Special Forces.
In the 1960’s, after President Kennedy awarded the Green Beret to the special forces, their mission changed from unconventional warfare to counter-insurgency to fight against communist sponsored wars of liberation.
After events, such as the hostage crisis at the Munich Olympics, caused another shift in the primary focus of special operations forces, this time to counter-terrorism.
Surgical strikes versus making friends
Lambert said there are two approaches to special operations in the modern military — direct and indirect.
Lambert gave the surgical strike on Osama bin Laden compound as an example of the direct approach to a special operations.
For the bin Laden attack, virtually unlimited resources were dedicated to the mission. That mission had the best equipment in the world and the best preparation in the world.
The commanding officer had contingency plans for every possible scenario. When the helicopter crashed during the mission, the commander had an immediate backup, and that backup likely had a backup.
Indirect operations are much different. They have much fewer resources and may play out over decades rather than a single night.
During indirect operations, soldiers work with groups in residence in the areas of conflict to achieve operational goals.
He said this was the effort Mark Nutsch, who spoke at the Legion last year, pursued when using horses to work with native tribes in the early days of the war in Afghanistan.
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Lambert concluded by saying special operations are undergoing another transformation at the moment. The force now recognizes that the indirect approach, small footprints, persistent presence and patience may be the best way to counter the increasingly unstable world.
Increasing global instability includes fragmentation of nation states, borders looking more like uncontrolled frontiers in much of the world, and a growing nexus of narco-traffickers, terrorists, and criminals working together in a subterranean magma.
He said the United States has realized that it must realize it can’t kill its way to success in the increasingly complex world.
“We can’t solve all the world’s problems any more,” Lambert said.
The world is looking at up to 2,000-year-old problems of conflicts between various religions and ethnic groups, Lambert said.
America has been used to having superiority in the air, at sea and on land.
However, now the U.S. military must prepare for cyber attacks, space warfare and the underground network of crime and terror.
Obama administration is starting to move toward the indirect approach for special operations, Lambert said. Special operations forces are now present in 77 countries around the world.
Army forces are beginning to collaborate more and are being required to show the operations they are pursuing are producing positive outcomes.
“You have to have persistence, perseverance and patient in the indirect approach,” Lambert said. “You have to invest in a lot of different programs until they flower and grow. If programs work, you dedicate more resources to them to reinforce success.”
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